FROM TIMELESS MEMORIES TO TIMELESS INSIGHTS: A REVIEW OF JOSHUA
AKEMECHA’S TIMELESS MEMORIES AT ITS LAUNCH ON FRIDAY 8TH JULY
2016 IN BAMENDA, BY EDWARD A. AYUGHO
Society constitutes the field in poetry for the poet who knows to reap his literary grain from the tares that are sowed there. E.E Hale Jr. in The House of Mirth prescribes that:
In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal out mind filled with busiest kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep… (309)
This is a befitting description that will follow the reading of Joshua Akemecha’s poetry collection: Timeless Memories; a collection that holds one’s interest and absorbs his attention unflaggingly to the end. In his poetic craft, Akemecha shrewdly observes and zooms into the cesspool of vice which roots itself an ethos that defines and characterizes society’s moral options. Before we delve into examining some of the poems in the collection, it will be rewarding to pause at this point to remind ourselves of what poetry seeks.
WHAT IS POETRY?
We would consider here a few informed and authoritative observations about poetry. In his book
Poetry: A Pocket Handbook, R.S Gwynn argues that:
Poetry need not be intimidating or obscure, thus providing a gentle reminder that the roots of poetry, like those of all literature, were passed down from generation to generation in ancient societies and recited for audiences that included all members of the tribe, from the wizened elders to the youngest children. For the most part of the long history, poetry has been a popular art form aimed at audiences. (2-3)
Audiences here means hearers and it emerges from this position that the emphasis in poet is that it aims at hearers who should immediately, and without difficulty understand what the poetry is saying. Therefore the bond between speaker, listener and context should not be corrupted by convolution. We will borrow again from Gwynn who also asserts that “one of the most persistent myths about poetry is that its language is artificial, “flowery” and essentially different from the language that people speak in going about their daily lives.” (11) While this may be true of some poetry, we can easily find numerous examples that reveal the opposite of the coin. Timeless Memories is one of these examples.
On his part, John Keats cited in Considering Poetry: An Approach to Criticism, posits that “poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself but with its subject.” Keats stresses the point that “if poetry comes not naturally as the leaves to a tree, it better not come at all.” (122). John Keats then sums up his view in the following poetic rendition: “of poesy, that it should be friend to soothe the cares and lift the thoughts of man.” (Ibid, 119). It is the poet’s duty to find or invent a language that will alone be capable of expressing his personality and feelings, such a language must make use of symbols meant to enhance, not to hinder the reader’s understanding of the poem. The poet should aim at illuminating things that happen to people and their responses, which should lead to a better understanding of one’s own experiences. We will draw from this to sustain the argument, in respond to what poetry seeks, that poetry can be written about absolutely anything. It could glorify, satirize, advocate or explore. We shall draw inspiration from the socio-artistic theory propounded by S.A Ambanasom to read Joshua Akemecha’s Timeless Memories.
The Socio-Artistic Approach which will inform our discussion, hinges on four cardinal tenets: Effectiveness of technique, Artistic truthfulness, readability and social significance. Effectiveness of technique constitutes the way in which the poet conveys his effect. It embodies what is seen and the poet’s attitude towards what is seen. His attitude conveyed by his tone could be criticism, condemnation, glorification or praise. This is appreciated through the use of language. Artistic-Truthfulness hinges on the idea of verisimilitude. It seeks to establish the believability of what the poet is saying, how his poems reflect the socio-cultural, socio-political, socio-economic, and socio-psychological character of his society. Readability considers the success with which the poems in the collection could be read at optimum speed and found interesting. Readability examines linguistic factors such as length and familiarity of vocabulary, complexity of syntactical structure, relationships or connections between words, and the level of abstraction. Social significance underpins the relevance of the poems, how they are conditioned by the social and historical context which informs them. It is in this regard that we can now delve into examining Joshua Akemecha’s poetry collection Timeless Memories.
TEXTUAL ANALYSIS OF Timeless Memories
As earlier observed, Joshua Akemecha’s collection places him on the pedestal of shrewd and meditative poets. As with every poet, he aims to communicate and what he seeks to communicate is the insight into people and the world; he wants to make his audience share that experience, to respond to it the same way as he does. And to this end Akemecha burrows into his childhood and youthful expectations which serve as a perfect place for a poet to look for things to write about. When we read Akemecha’s poem ‘To my Last Pair of Shoes”, it reminds us about Lord Byron’s hypothetical statement cited by Michael Meyer in Poetry: An introduction that “For a man to become a poet… he must be in love or miserable” (xxxii). We cannot afford to be indifferent to the battering throes of poverty and unemployment which Akemecha spotlights in this poem. The second stanza foregrounds the poet’s plight:
You must have called me trash
Because I couldn’t afford a new pair
Yet we trekked the land together
And every door we knocked
They called me Good-for-nothing. (11. 4-8)
The intimacy which Akemecha evokes between the persona and his pair of shoes mirrors or parallels a pair of Beckett’s characters, perennially helpless. It works to highlight the acute bouts of poverty and unemployment staring at the persona. The last two lines of the stanza “and every door we knocked/they called me Good-for-nothing” would seem to be a subtle call for us to re-direct our pedagogic focus form churning out people who cannot weave a basket to developing in learners, transferable skills that should empower them to survive after university, and increase their chances of self-employment and reduce dependency on the state for jobs.
It is also interesting how the poet zooms into awareness creation and like typical romantics such as wordsworth or Keats; he decries the robbing of our environment of its self-worth. Consider to this effect poems like “Ecowar,” “Do not go Farther” among others. Closely associated with this effect poems “Yaoundé” with its “junk over-laden valleys/ of decomposing life… and of scavengers/ caressing crawling worms/Escorted by fleas and flies…” (11. 4-13) could there have been a more apt description of the abandoned litter on our streets?
With amazing ease Joshua Akemecha broaches a variety of issues in his collection. Besides the ones already examined, he delves into politics and lampoons contemporary political characters in poems such as “A town Bereft” which captures the state of emergency declared in Bamenda following the 1992 presidential elections. “High-Flyers” ridicules a leadership rooted in “sit- tight” culture. “Chairs and stools” amplifies this view when the poet says
This chair is a charming stool
They say I pass stool on the stool- –
But the baby doesn’t smell its stool
So if my chair be smeared with stool
Like a baby I will rock on my stool (11.13-18)
Certainly the poet here is addressing political leaders who recycle themselves for extra-time people who will never subscribe to leaving the stage when the applause is loudest. The view is again sustained and seasoned with some Chaucerian humour in “Saloon Aesthetics” in which the poet stretches his vision of “age recycling” which characterizes the quest for political power:
With the smile of an ape
We pose for the touch
Of cosmetic hands
Like porcelain ware (11. 1-4)
In “Do Not Go Farther”, Akemecha also bluntly addresses the “sect” culture that is common place in the political game, and which leads the players to heart-rending moral debauchery.
Listen to the speaker in the 4th stanza of the poem:
…on hourly-minute, second basis
Men screw the waste pipes of men
Dogs become spouses, cats’ babes
…baboons are dressed in suits
Or make-up as whores to wait
Night comes at mid-day
More plague shall alight (11. 17-23)
To the poet, society is led by unconscionable men and the plagues that befall society are a function of these men with untamable moral indiscretions.
In other poems like “Across the Mungo” and “Home” the poet defines the despondence which swallows up the Anglophone who happens to be in the Francophone dominated side of the country. Drawing from this, the poet seeks self-hood and identity because he is robbed of his own identity, relegated to a second class citizen. He thus longs for his identity; one that should inject his being with relevance, an identity that seeks a new orientation and finds expression in the poem “Ambazonia.”
As a third generation Anglophone Cameroonian poet, radicalism as a poetic tool becomes an apparent feature of Joshua Akemechas’s poetry, a trait that holds an appeal to a sizeable portion of the Anglophone public mind. Poems such as “Invitation: To a Common Cause,” “A Call to Arms” and “Matrimony?” attest to this. Joshua Akemecha also punctuates his collection with local life and colour. We have the poems “Of palm wine,” “Yesterday” and in a seeming opposition to the metaphysical John Donne’s “Death, Be not Proud,” Akemecha exhorts deaths to be proud in his “Death be Proud” in which he sees fatalism and the helplessness of man in the face of death
One very important quality of Timeless Memories is that it strikes a balance between gratified venality and fulfilling decency, deliberate failure and purposeful achievement. Where Akemecha castigates in “Do not go Farther”, “Man Master”, “Yaoundé” among others, he eulogizes or praises in poems like “Martin Paul Samba,” and “Combatants”. The collection rounds off on a note that blackmail is a resort for the infamous in the poem “Equivocations.” The poet seemingly draws from the May 6th 1990 Cameroon Calling saga at the Cameroon Radio and Television Corporation (CRTV).
With regard to our evaluation criteria and for all its brilliancy, in every sense of the word, Timeless Memories deserves a literary recognition and space. The issues broached are topical and relevant and will hold an appeal for discussion. That meets our requirement of social relevance.
Timeless Memories is a collection of poetry with applaudable aesthetic sensibilities. The language is seductive, beautiful and the subject matter elegant and compels both admiration and reading. It also meets our criteria of effectiveness of technique, readability and artistic truthfulness. The collection will surely stimulate discussions that could inspire readers to try their hand at writing their own poems, born out of their experiences. It is also a valuable research document. Note that the book is neatly structured and presented.
In Timeless Memories Joshua Akemecha keeps the reader’s interest from the first to the last poem. He evokes varying emotions: pity, fear, horror, hate, love. The collection produces a haunting effect on our imagination not as timeless memories but as timeless insights. On this note, we postulate that Joshua Akemecha’s Timeless Memories is excellent literature, which has worked to mark out a creative or literary space for him as a budding poet to watch and encourage.
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